How to get ahead in the media industry from the people who did

By Jacqueline GaNun

There are many ways to forge a career path in the media industry. The field that once required hopeful journalists to follow the same rigid pathway — usually journalism school, followed by working in a small market before moving up to a larger market — has expanded to include different routes, according to several media professionals interviewed for a student-produced podcast at the University of Georgia.

Career accessibility has become an important topic for student journalists, especially for people from backgrounds that historically have experienced limited opportunities in the media industry. That’s where The Lead podcast comes in. It’s a show about how to get ahead in the media industry, told by the people who did. As the current host of The Lead, I have spoken with several talented journalists from different specialties and backgrounds. They all had valuable insight to share.

Photojournalist Alyssa Pointer discussed the courage required to be a journalist. While covering protests for racial equality in 2020, she was arrested by police in Atlanta despite her press credentials and equipment.

“It kind of just reminded me as a person of color covering these events that a badge can only get you so far,” Pointer said. “That instance just made me more determined to keep pushing for access to photograph things that I think are important.”

Melissa Lyttle, who also specializes in photojournalism, said her biggest piece of advice for aspiring journalists is to not take “no” for an answer.

When she proposed going to Haiti to cover a conflict, an editor shot down the idea. Lyttle was convinced the story was important, so she figured out how much vacation time she had and told her boss she would be away from the office on personal time. She booked herself a flight to Port-au-Prince and went alone, without the support of a news outlet, to cover the story she knew was important.

“If it’s a story that you care about, and someone tells you that you can’t do it, or you shouldn’t do it, you should question their motives. And if it’s really important to you, find a way to do it,” Lyttle said.

When she returned to the newsroom, the same editor that told her she couldn’t go on the reporting trip asked to run the photos in the paper. Lyttle politely declined.

“I said, ‘Send me back next year and I’ll tell this story for you,’” she said.

Taking initiative is a valuable skill at all levels of news, said Rui Kaneya, a senior editor at ProPublica. He oversees its Local Reporting Network, which supports local news outlets with ProPublica’s investigative resources.

Kaneya has seen firsthand the negative effects on communities from the decimation of local newsrooms and he encouraged aspiring journalists to work on a local level when possible.

“At the end of the day, local reporters know their area and what’s important to their communities,” Kaneya said.

Kaneya’s projects span a variety of subjects, but many reporters specialize in one specific topic.

Pallavi Gogoi, for example, built a career specializing in business news. After covering politics and culture in India, she wanted to report in the U.S., and the only jobs she could apply for with her experience were in financial journalism. She started out covering currencies and soon realized she loved telling business stories because of how they got to the heart of how people live their lives.

“Your financial health is the underpinning of your life,” Gogoi said. “So, when we cover economics and business, I feel that we are literally covering your life and my life.”

Gogoi was recently NPR’s chief business editor before becoming the organization’s acting managing editor. She said her advice for all journalists, regardless of specialty, is to remember why they are doing this job and to appreciate its importance.

“That is, to me, the most important thing … it is really a privilege to be a journalist, but to remember that it is a privilege and enjoy it,” Gogoi said. “Enjoy every single moment.”


Jacqueline GaNun is a journalism student at the University of Georgia.

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